But Rehoboam rejected the advice the elders gave him and consulted the young men who had grown up with him and were serving him. 2 Chronicles 10:8 (NIV)
Like most young people, I wasn’t sure what I was going to do with my life. As a young man I’d heard God’s calling to be a Messenger and I made a young man’s naive assumption that this necessitated some kind of full-time vocational ministry. For whatever reason, I decided to go to a handful of my elders who were in pastoral ministry and ask them a question: “If you had the ability to go back and do college all over again, what would you do differently?”
I found it fascinating that the answers I received from different people were eerily similar. They told me that they found much of their their Biblical studies in undergraduate and graduate school to be wasted repetition. “When you go to college, study something you love. Follow your passion and your gifts,” they told me. I listened, and majored in Communication with an emphasis in Theatre. It was one of the best decisions of my life.
One of the great life lessons I learned in that experience was that seeking the advice of those who have gone before me is a wise thing to do.
Solomon’s son Rehoboam had enjoyed a charmed life. He was heir to the throne and was afforded all of the privileges that came with the wealth, opulence, and deference that came with being the one who would succeed his successful father. We can assume that he and his frat-boy buddies grew up getting everything they wanted and being denied little or nothing they desired. In his very first political crisis, Rehoboam makes a classic young person’s mistake. Like me, he received the advice of his elders, but he chose to listen to his homies instead. He foolishly chose the path of power instead of the path of mercy. He chose pride over humility. It cost him the kingdom and ranks as one of the most memorable and epic fails in recorded history.
This morning I’m looking back at my life and feeling gratitude for the grace that was afforded me to seek and heed wise counsel as a young man. As I transition to a new position of leadership in business this year I realize that seeking the wise counsel of those who’ve gone before me on this path is now almost second nature. I’ve learned that the journey goes much smoother when I seek the wisdom of those who’ve already traversed the section of life’s road I currently find myself trekking.
They claim to know God, but by their actions they deny him. Titus 1:16a
There is this thing we call “Iowa Nice.” It’s an attitude, really. There are no classes that teach it, and no strict definition. It’s a generalization that comes through the generations. It comes up out of the soil and permeates our being, though it’s not universal. While there are always a few bad corn kernels in every bushel, the people of Iowa are pretty hospitable folk. We’re happy to help if you need it. We are kind and accommodating, even to strangers. We’re just…well…nice.
I thought about Iowa nice this morning as I read Paul’s letter to Titus. Paul had left Titus on the island of Crete to organize the various groups of Jesus followers into some semblance of organization. Titus’ job was to appoint “Overseers” (think Pastor) who would “manage the household” of believers and “Elders” who were spiritually mature leaders. Paul provides qualifications, but then acknowledges Titus’ challenge to find such individuals among the Cretans.
The people of Crete did not have a great reputation. In contrast to “Iowa Nice,” Paul quotes a Cretan prophet who claims: “Cretans are always liars, evil brutes, lazy gluttons.” Yikes. Titus is to find, among this group, those who are hospitable, self-controlled, and upright. You can almost hear Paul’s subtext: “Good luck with that.” Among Paul’s disparaging descriptive remarks about many of the Cretans is the fact that they “claim to know God, but by their actions deny them.”
What a great reminder this morning as I head into the week of our local Tulip Time festival here in Pella. I am not perfect, to be sure, but I would hope that I my actions will always bear witness to the faith that I claim – not deny it. I and my fellow residents will spend three entire days this week playing host to thousands of visitors and treating them to a generous dose of “Iowa Nice.” My desire is that my hospitality will always be a reflection of Jesus, who exemplified hospitality when He welcomed this stranger into His family.
Never speak harshly to an older man,but appeal to him respectfully as you would to your own father. 1 Timothy 5:1 (NLT)
This past weekend, Wendy and I attended a Journey to Wholeness conference at our church along with our kids Taylor and Clayton. The conference was led by a couple, Connely and Signa Bodishbaugh, who hail from Alabama and are both in their 70’s. They brought a team of people with them. Among them was a pastor from Texas, Tommy, who was also in his 70’s. I was blown away by the collective wisdom among them.
We all commented during the weekend how listening to Connely, Signa, and Tommy was like listening to a wise grandparent giving you sage advice. Though capable teachers, there was no flash or polish of gifted orators. They simply spoke softly and sincerely, and like wise elders with much to share they spoke at great length. Wendy commented to me yesterday morning as we discussed the conference that she felt the spiritual authority held by those who have earnestly followed Jesus for decades.
I thought of our conference and our teachers as I read Paul’s advice to be respectful and honoring of our elders. I’m having trouble easily articulating all that I learned and experienced this weekend, and I find myself pondering many questions this morning. In a culture given to valuing “new and improved” I wonder if we are quickly losing sight of the worth of wisdom and experience. When the world clamors ceaselessly for the “next generation” of gadgets, apps, and devices, I question if we are losing sight of the value of generations past. I enter the week filled with a new sense of life and purpose. I am grateful for a heart and head full to overflowing with the wisdom and insights I received. I’m convicted to honor and listen to those who’ve journeyed before me. I’m praying that as my own journey continues I might have opportunity to share wisdom with those who follow behind.
Rather, [an Elder] must enjoy having guests in his home, and he must love what is good. He must live wisely and be just. He must live a devout and disciplined life. Titus 1:8 (NLT)
I’ve recently been reading Good to Great by Jim Collins. In the book, Collins and his research team studied the qualities of leadership among a small handful of executives who had led their companies from a status of mediocrity to rising above the competition and realizing long term success. Among the list of qualities these leaders displayed was the ability to put the right people in the right positions to maximize their strengths. Any business leaders knows that getting the right people in the right jobs is a critical component to prosperity.
In the decades following Jesus’ resurrection and ascension, His followers spread out around the known world to share their story so that others might believe. Paul (a.k.a. Saul), who began as vehement enemy of Jesus’ followers, had an encounter with the resurrected Jesus and quickly became a passionate believer and follower. Paul journeyed all through Greece telling people about Jesus and organizing believers into local churches.
Titus is a letter from Paul to the man for whom it is named. After Paul had shared the message about Jesus with people on the island of Crete, many of them believed. Paul left Titus behind and charged him with the task of organizing these groups of believers on the island of Crete. One of the most critical tasks in this rapidly growing organization of followers was finding capable leaders. In today’s chapter Paul provides Titus with a description of the type of leader to look for in an effort to find the right man for the job.
As I read through the description this morning I thought of a good friend of mine who was recently asked to consider the possibility of being named “Elder” in his local congregation. After two centuries, the practice of finding and appointing capable leaders among believers is still an on-going practice. My friend was honored by the request, and I thought of him as I read Paul’s description. As I reached the above verse I thought of the countless times I have been a guest in his home for meals, for refreshment, and for meaningful conversation. I thought of the goodness and life that he earnestly seeks after. I remembered words of wisdom he has shared with me over the years and the example he has been to me of a devout and disciplined life in his pursuit of being like Jesus. I was happy for him, and blessed to know a person who is a perfect fit for the job Paul described two thousand years ago.
Abraham fell facedown; he laughed and said to himself, “Will a son be born to a man a hundred years old? Will Sarah bear a child at the age of ninety?” Genesis 17:17 (NIV)
When I was a young man, I memorized and clung to this line from Paul’s letter to his young protege Timothy:
Don’t let anyone think less of you because you are young. Be an example to all believers in what you say, in the way you live, in your love, your faith, and your purity.
I figured that if God had given me spiritual gifts like everyone else, then I was totally going to use those gifts and be of service. I wanted to make a difference. I tried to instill that same spirit in my daughters in their youth, and continue to get jazzed when I see young people with a passion for God actively living out their faith.
Today, I’m at a different place in the journey. If averages and genetics hold sway, you could say that I’m still in mid-life. Nevertheless, I can’t deny the fact that I’m likely on the downhill side. Instead of not letting others think less of me because I’m young, I sometimes feel the need not to let others think less of me because I’m old. As technology advances at breakneck speeds, I wonder if the gulf between generations is expanding and making it easier for in the back stretch and making the final turn to feel irrelevant and lost.
I think that it’s awesome that God made such a huge play in Abram’s life right when Abram was turning 100 and Sarai was in her nineties. God willing, I want the last half of my life to be more productive than the first. I want to live with purpose and witness God doing big things in and through my life when I’m old. I don’t want to stagger and limp to the finish. God grant that I finish strong. I want to be kicking it in to a full sprint when I hit the home stretch and find myself heading for the tape.